Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: August 29, 2004 at 3:15 AM
TPI visitors who have been reading my reviews know I'm not too fond of the website blurbs the theme parks use. But I honestly can't find any fault with this one. This is the way blurbs should be, intriguing yet it doesn't set you up for unattainable heights.
If anything, this blurb kind of underdoes it. I don't think visitors to the WDW site understand what a great themed atmosphere they have here. Yes, it's both a drive-in with cars and a snack bar and, yes, it's also indoors. It would be kind of hard to get a drive-in feel if you were parked out in Orlando's blazing sun (or torrential rains). Besides, isn't everybody outside enough? The air-conditioning more than makes up for the fact that those "stars" are painted onto a ceiling.
The "convertibles" are mostly six-seaters, but with three rows of two, instead of the two rows of three you might expect. It sounds weird but it doesn't ruin the effect. Before each seat is a table, so don't fret that you'll have to eat off a tray placed on your car door. While this seating is great for couples or a family of four (it's much easier to watch kids sitting right in front of you), parties with an odd number of guests may have to decide who will have a row to him- or herself. I seem to recall some convertibles having just four seats and some umbrella-covered tables back by the "snack bar" but don't rely on me for that (call 407-WDW-DINE for information and for Priority Seating reservations up to 90 days in advance) since I was busy looking at other stuff.
True to the name out front, the sit-down restaurant fulfills its sci-fi theme by projecting old-fashioned creature feature trailers on the drive-in screen. These are a hoot, but for some unfathomable reason the loop lasts about an hour, if that. Some of the trailers are fun, but not so fun that you need to see them twice. On our visit, service was so slow, we saw most of them THREE times. Sigh.
Okay, so the theme is fantastic. What about the food? In a word: Meh! And that's if you can find something worthwhile to order. I'm usually an appetizer fiend, but I passed because I couldn't find anything interesting on the menu. Marinated Tomatoes sounds like the Sci-Fi chefs have been forced to dig through the Brown Derby's dumpster for menu items. The Popcorn Chowder, a corn chowder, sounded inviting except for the fact that it was topped with cheddar popcorn. Say what? Has anybody in this restaurant ever tried wet popcorn? Unpleasant in taste AND texture. The Sci-Fi House Salad was also tempting, with bleu cheese crumbles, but then it was topped off with a white balsamic vinaigrette and spicy walnuts. Spicy Walnuts?!?! What the...?!?!?
One appetizer that didn't have some bizarre addition was the Crispy Onion Rings, a dish my companion slobbers over. But even with her onion ring obsession, she couldn't finish her plate, proclaiming them too greasy. I notice there is a Spinach and Artichoke Dip on the menu now, which I would have tried had it been offered on my visit. (It might have been on there but was unavailable. Not sure.)
The weird additives didn't venture much onto the entree menu, though the Shrimp Penne Pasta had way more than necessary. I mean, I can understand plum tomatoes, if cut up, but baby spinach? The main ingredient here is shrimp, people, so why try to focus the flavor elsewhere?
I had the Sauteed Pork Medallions, or as the dish should be labeled in the menu, Sauteed Pork MEHdallions. I was leery ordering this in the first place, as pork is difficult to do well. Unsurprisingly, mine were overcooked and therefore dry. My companion kept insisting I send it back, but, as I mentioned earlier, service was slow and I wasn't going to wait another half-hour for my food.
She was one to talk, though, as she ordered the Flat Iron Steak and was unhappy with its temperature. She is a weird eater though, and tends to eat the side dishes first, in this case roasted veggies and a loaded baked potato. I suggested that its coldness may be due to her letting it sit for so long, but I did have to wonder if the reason it took so long to get our food was because it was sitting under a heat lamp far longer than necessary. She didn't finish her steak, but that isn't unusual for her.
Without an appetizer, I had room for dessert, but we were done sitting here. Besides, we had both had their fabulous shakes, mine was Strawberry, hers Cookies and Cream, so we felt we had our fix for a while. It's too bad, because I have heard from many people that their desserts are what they do right. The Big Bang sundae is only a little off from the sundae they offer at the Prime Time, so I'm sure we would have liked that. There is also a Warm Apple & Pecan Crisp, a Chocolate Kahlua Torte, the requisite Cheesecake (with berries) and even Strawberry Shortcake.
Many frequent WDW visitors will head to the Sci-Fi solely for dessert and atmosphere, which I think is a spectacular idea. I think the dinner menu is way too ambitious. Why such a young theme and such old food? I know they have been trying to improve quality here, but they really should focus on food more appropriate to the theme, like specialty hamburgers and hot dogs, and snackier stuff like nachos and fries. Prime Time's fries with dipping sauces would be PERFECT here.
As for prices, this is one of the few WDW restaurants that doesn't jack up prices on the dinner menu. The dishes that appear on both menus are priced the same. The lunch menu does offer sandwiches, including a plain ol' hamburger, while the dinner menu offers more seafood dishes. Prices for the sandwiches is in the low teens, and entrees range from the mid- to high teens. Surprisingly reasonable for theme park food, but I think this is due to the Sci-Fi's poor-food reputation. The atmosphere is so entertaining that they could easily price some of these dishes at $20, if they were any good.
The Sci-Fi is a hard restaurant to rate. The atmosphere is top-notch, the food anything but. Except for dessert. As a regular restaurant, I have a hard time even giving it a 7 - Good on the TPI Scale, simply because the food isn't up to snuff. But it is something everyone should do once, just for the experience. Of course, they always say to do what the regulars do, which would be to just go for dessert. Then your experience should rate a 9 - Outstanding.